Calgarians aid in the Feb. 11 triumphant rescue of Israeli hostages

Norberto Louis Har, 70 (left), and Fernando Simon Marman, 60, were rescued in a nighttime operation in Rafah. (Courtesy of the Hostages Families Forum)
(Calgary) – Late on February 11th the Jewish world, finally, had something to celebrate.  After four months in captivity, Israeli hostages Fernando Marman, aged 61, and Louis Har, aged 70, were miraculously rescued in Rafah from a building under heavy fire from Hamas terrorist guards.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the rescue mission “one of the most successful in Israeli history.”

This, most complex operation, was the triumphant success of IDF Special Forces: Yamam (National Counter-Terrorism Unit) and Israel’s Navy Seals, Unit Shayetet 13.  Indeed…but also the collaborative work of a group of Calgarians and their friends.

The Calgary connection to the rescuers, specifically Israel’s Navy Seals, Unit Shayetet 13, began when a visiting-to-Calgary member of that unit became a close friend to Valerie Sobel, then the Chair of Beit Halochem Canada for Alberta. Their friendship endured and became more meaningful with each passing year and the challenges Israel faced.

Enter Black Sabbath, October 7th, 2023.  Sobel immediately reached out to Avi (not his real name) who was about to go into Gaza along with his entire unit.  “What do you need? What can we do for your unit right now; don’t worry about the magnitude of the funding it will take,” she asked.  To her surprise, the hesitant reply was about needing bullet-proof vests for half of the unit.  As it turns out, this elitest force of IDF was working with outdated Vietnam-war-era safety vests. This, amongst many other shocks to the system, was the lasting legacy of Yehud Barak’s outsourcing of Israel’s military manufacturing and general diminishing of militarily funding. It caught up catastrophically on October 7th as the Jewish world became painfully aware of Israel’s urgent military needs, in the past always unquestioned and presumed to be in tiptop shape.

Sobel sprung into action to raise tens of thousands of dollars for state-of-the-art bulletproof vests through a private network of family, friends and social media contacts. Considering that most Israel-supporting individuals had already  contributed to various causes for Israel in previous weeks…she often heard “…but I already contributed here and there.”

Nevertheless, a group of 45 Canadian and American Jews  and Gentiles quickly formed to fulfil the Navy Seals’ request. Most of the individuals had been contributing to a plethora of Israel fundraising efforts prior to this project.  About 70% of the group is Calgarians.

At the same time as fundraising, Valerie learned that only one factory, located in Virginia, manufactured this type of high-end military gear. Unfortunately, the factory was unavailable for 12 months as they were already committed to the production of earlier-placed orders. As luck would have it, most of those orders were placed by American Navy Seals who, upon hearing about Shayetet 13 urgent needs, instructed the manufacturer to halt their production until all of Israel’s orders were fulfilled. American Navy Seals’ kindness and grace now had Israel in front of the line!  In the weeks to come, Valerie maintained regular contact with the factory to make sure the rush order was, indeed, rushed.

Fundraising continued and Sobel ended up with more money than was required for half of the unit’s vests. The goal moved. The group expanded and now began fundraising for the entire unit. In the end, the entire Shayetet 13 unit received the state-of-the-art bulletproof vests they desperately needed for their work in Gaza. The Virginia factory shipped off the vests in record time; it took only one week for the first order to arrive in Israel, and another three for the second order. Something that normally takes 12 weeks of production alone, before shipping. The manufacturer-contact Valerie worked with expressed personal empathy and support for Israel in each phone conversation.

The generosity of the 30 Calgarians, along with 15 counterparts from the US and other parts of Canada was extraordinary in the fundraising for tens of thousands of USD.  And then another miracle happened.  Once again, more money was raised than necessary for the two orders of the bullet-proof vests.  Now, with the additional generosity of Calgary’s Jerry Schwartz, Alex Rotzang and one other anonymous donor couple, the group was able to fund the third request by the Navy Seals. This time, for specialized tactical carrier-bags, equipment necessary for special operations.  The Calgary-based group, once again, funded the supplies for the entire unit.  The equipment arrived in Israel a week prior to the events of February 11th, just in time for the hostage-rescue operation.

Very late on that Saturday night, February 11th, Valerie Sobel received a private message from Avi who just returned from Gaza. It read, “Please tell your group that we competed the rescue operation with all of the equipment you sent us. We’re all safe.”

Last week Special Forces of IDF gave us an unexpected gift of joy and celebration, something we desperately needed for months. Yet what has become crystal clear is that everyone can play an integral role no matter how far away from the battlefield. It takes a village.

Special gratitude goes out to the 45 individuals/families who so generously supported Israel’s special forces and the rescue operation of the two hostages without ever requiring a donation receipt or any recognition.  Some members of the group have also volunteered in Israel in the area of agriculture and military and plan to do so again.   A special Todah Rabah! goes out to members of Calgary families who aided the rescue efforts of the two hostages with their generosity and humility:  Schwartz, Rodin, Rotzang, Schvimer, Cheuk, Bogoch, Mollerup, Gelmon, Sharpe, Robinson, Gelt, Kaye, Brener, Doctor, Korduner, Wiebe, Ezekiel, Tweet, Mousaev, Grisaru, Elhanati, Klevsky, Guterman, Gaber, Chulsky M/S, Della Vedova, Sobel, Picard, Kahane, Anonymous, Anonymous and Anonymous.

The group will continue its private philanthropy as needed. Anyone requiring further information or wanting to join in in the efforts, please send a note to

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